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3 minute read
29 May 2020
1:47 pm

JTI off to court over tobacco ban: ‘Govt not listening to industry or consumers’

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The matter is headed to court to challenge the ban imposed under Section 27 of the Disaster Management Act regulations.

Picture: Shutterstock

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has joined forces with British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), as the two largest tobacco manufacturers based in South Africa, along with a host of civil society and concerned citizens, in the action to lift the lockdown prohibition on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Bongani Mshibe, Director Corporate Affairs, Japan Tobacco International comments: “The legal tobacco industry has attempted to consult with the Government, including making submissions as to how the sale and distribution of tobacco products can take place without impacting the spread of Covid-19 during any lockdown level. These attempts to consult and numerous submissions have not been taken into consideration.

“There are 11 million smokers in this country, and tobacco is a legal product. The ban is an infringement on adult choices and right to use these products. The Government is not listening to the industry or consumers, so it is now clear that Government intends to keep the ban for the foreseeable future. We unfortunately have no choice but to turn to the courts for relief which could have been avoided if Government consulted with the legal tobacco industry.”

The preliminary and limited data available provides no convincing evidence as to whether smoking increases or decreases the probability of being infected or admitted to hospital with COVID-19, and there is presently no data available on vaping in relation to COVID-19. It is therefore irresponsible to seek to draw concrete conclusions, or create public policy, based on incomplete science.

Mshibe comments: “There is however abundant evidence that despite the ban, consumers are continuing to smoke and find alternatives in illegal cigarettes, effectively criminalising SA’s smokers. There has been massive growth in illicit tobacco sales since lockdown. The risks are clear and evident, with consumers having to travel to find illegal products and being forced to share cigarettes. This has opened a door that will not easily be shut.”

Almost all countries that have implemented social lockdowns to reduce the spread of the virus have permitted the sale of tobacco products, including the U.S. China & the U.K. where some of these inconclusive studies on the link between smoking and COVID-19 are being cited.

“We are aware of only three countries in the world, including South Africa that did not list tobacco as a basic good at the commencement of a lockdown, and one of those, India, has now lifted its initial prohibition. It is surprising that South Africa has taken a different stance with an ailing economy. Based on 2019 IPSOS figures, the South African Government is losing tobacco tax revenue in excess of R10-billion annually – or in excess of R30-million each day – since the commencement of the lockdown. With no end in sight to the ban as we are following a risk- adjusted model, the losses to the fiscus seem set to continue, at a time when Government needs revenue more than ever,” says Mshibe.

If you extrapolate these losses from 27 March, Day 1 of the lockdown, to today, 29 May, that amounts to R1,92 billion in lost revenue to illicit tobacco, whilst legal tobacco retailers and wholesalers are losing a total of R65 million every day of not selling. This is Government revenue that could have funded the R350 grant to 5.2 million South Africans over the lockdown. Unfortunately, our Government is also placing 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk, including the livelihood of emerging farmers. This extreme regulation approach will deter investor confidence in South Africa.

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